The IT horizon is looking green

The amount of power consumed by data centres doubled from 2000 to 2005, according to Jonathan Koomey, consulting professor at Stanford University.

By the end of 2005, data centres were consuming approximately 1.2 percent of all U.S. electricity. The United Nations estimates that 20 million to 50 million tons of computer equipment and cell phones are dumped into landfills each year worldwide. Greenpeace asserts that electronic equipment is the fastest-growing waste segment on the planet and that only 12 percent of PCs and cell phones are recycled. Levels of lead, carbon dioxide and other pollutants resulting from the manufacture and use of electronic equipment are rising annually.

As the world struggles with global warming, IT leaders need to focus on reducing energy consumption and the use of hazardous materials. A number of governments are implementing regulations that will affect hardware manufacturers as well as IT departments. In particular, these three European Union mandates will have a significant impact on IT organizations doing business in Europe:

The Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) prohibits sales in the EU of new electronic equipment containing more than specified levels of six hazardous materials. China and India are expected to adopt versions of RoHS within the next year.

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive is closely aligned with RoHS. Under WEEE, manufacturers must establish a collection process within the EU to allow individuals and companies to return electronic waste, free of charge. Manufacturers must reuse or refurbish the waste or dispose of it an ecologically friendly manner.

The Energy-Using Products directive, which just went into effect in July, addresses all products using electricity or other fuels. It requires manufacturers to calculate and report the lifetime energy consumption of a product, including the energy used to manufacture, transport, sell, operate and dispose of it. Some observers speculate that manufacturers will be forced to reduce the lifetime energy consumption of new products to be sold in the EU.

The U.S. is also creating programs affecting electronic equipment, including the following:

– The Environmental Protection Agency has had Energy Star guidelines for desktops, notebooks, workstations and game consoles for some time. On July 20, new Energy Star requirements demanding more-efficient power supplies and lower “idle power” went into effect.

– On Jan. 24, President Bush signed an executive order requiring that 95 percent of electronic products procured by federal agencies meet Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool standards. EPEAT helps institutional buyers compare the environmental attributes of desktops, laptops and monitors. It incorporates many of the RoHS standards as well as the Energy Star requirements for PCs.

– Many states are passing their own legislation. California’s RoHS, modeled on the EU’s, limits the amount of hazardous chemicals permitted in the manufacture of electronic equipment. California’s Electronic Waste Recycling Act requires buyers of PCs and monitors to pay a US$6 to $10 recycling fee at the time of purchase. Maine, Maryland, Virginia and other states also have electronic recycling acts. The Arkansas Computer and Electronic Solid Waste Management Act bans disposal of computer and electronic equipment in local landfills.

Unfortunately, state mandates often conflict with one another. Manufacturers are requesting national (or, better yet, worldwide) regulations to facilitate standard manufacturing processes and disposal methods.

Many business publications have recently run cover stories on the efforts of major corporations to make their operations more energy efficient and less harmful to the environment. Because of this new emphasis in the business community, IT organizations need to focus on meeting energy mandates and demonstrating environmental responsibility.

Bart Perkins is managing partner at Louisville, Ky.-based Leverage Partners Inc. , which helps organizations invest well in IT. Contact him at [email protected].

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